Firefighters Raising Money for Woodworker’s Fire Losses

When a 30 x 50 workshop at 3162 Kangaroo Beach Road in Baileys Harbor was lost to a fire last week, no one was hurt and the structure didn’t touch the owner’s nearby home.

But the size of a place doesn’t always measure its worth. What owner Kevin Combs lost that day was decades-worth of materials and tools that he used as a carpenter, woodcarver and sculptor.

Kevin Combs in 1977 when he worked for Palmer Johnson in Sturgeon Bay, with some of the teak carvings he was making for the yacht, Carabana. “They called me the woodchuck because they would throw all the teak scraps away and I would go collect them,” he said. Submitted.

“It was my whole life,” Combs said by phone. 

The shop caught fire from an old, pot-bellied wood stove. Combs said he lit the stove, then headed to his house to grab a cup of coffee. By the time he returned, the fire had taken hold. 

“I left the damper open; I didn’t damper down,” he said. “I take full responsibility for my stupidness.”

The mistake on that Nov. 6 morning would prove to be fatal for 45-years worth of valuable tools of Combs’ trade, accumulated a little at a time with a part of every paycheck: diamond cutting tools, woodworking tools, masonry tools, chisels, jewelry for his sculptures, powders, potions, table saws, planers, joiners, air tools for stonework. There were also irreplaceable items, such as blocks of wood he’d been drying for 20 years, a technique that enables him to carve without the wood cracking.

His workmanship can be seen at places around the county in works of art, but also where it’s not recognizable as his – cabinets at the White Gull Inn in Fish Creek, for example, or woodwork at the Bayside Tavern, also in Fish Creek – and everything he used had been stored in that workshop. 

“I had invested everything I had in these tools,” he said.

He has been building his workshop of materials and tools since 1978 when he first moved to the property, having arrived in Door County the year before for his first job as a wood carver for Palmer Johnson. Today, Combs is 72 and recently emerged from some health problems.

“This is the most challenging thing that has happened in my life and I’ve had a lot of rotten things happen,” he said. “My emotions have been all over the place; thank goodness I have friends.”

Combs can now count among those friends the Baileys Harbor firefighters who stanched the blaze, with assistance from area fire departments. Bill Hartman, President of the Baileys Harbor Fire-Rescue Association, said in an email that Combs had experienced a “tragic loss” and was “truly at a loss on what to do next.”

The association is sponsoring a fundraising collection for Combs to help get him “back on his feet and feeling like a productive member of the community again,” Hartman said. “We ask the generous Door County community to consider sending a donation to the Baileys Harbor Fire-Rescue Association with 100% collected going to Kevin to assist in rebuilding his workshop.”

Donations can be made payable to the Association and mailed to Baileys Harbor Fire-Rescue Association, Attn: Kevin Fund, P.O. Box 91, Baileys Harbor, WI 54202.

When Combs spoke about his loss on Tuesday, he had been living for a week without electricity or water – WPS had cut the electrical lines during the fire and the power had not been restored. He’s also not been able to pick through the debris to claim whatever may be salvageable, and not just because the remaining parts of the structure are unstable.

“Mentally, I’m just not ready,” he said.